20 February 2019

By: Roman Kubovic

20 February 2019

By: Roman Kubovic


On 24 January 2019, the Working Group of the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review mechanism (UPR) conducted its third review of the human rights situation in North Macedonia.

The third cycle of North Macedonia’s review began with a presentation of the National Report by the Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, Andrej Zhernovski. Mr. Zhernovski noted the political difficulties faced by North Macedonia since its last review, but he highlighted successful reforms of the justice system and the criminal code. In response to questions posed in advance, he also noted efforts undertaken to reduce corruption and mistreatment in prisons, as well as efforts to curb violence against journalists and members of the LGBTI community.

Following presentation of the national report, the session proceeded with an interactive dialogue, during which 57 state delegations participated. States commended North Macedonia for improvements to its judiciary and also its efforts to fight discrimination. However, states were concerned about prison conditions and deportation of migrants and refugees. Concerns were also expressed regarding ongoing discrimination against members of the Roma and LBGTI communities, as well as barriers faced by people with disabilities. The North Macedonian delegation responded to various points raised by UN Member States and concluded with a few remarks.

On Tuesday, 29 January 2019, the Working Group adopted the report on North Macedonia, which contained a total of 169 recommendations. The State Party will consider the recommendations and respond no later than the forty-first session of the Human Rights Council (June-July 2019).

The full report of North Macedonia’s third UPR process includes:
• Presentation of the National Report
• Interactive Dialogue and Recommendations from States
• Background information
• North Macedonia’s Participation in International Human Rights Treaties
• Summary of UN Documentation and Stakeholder Submissions.
UPR 32, 21 January to 1 February 2019, Source: GICJ

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Presentation of the National Report

Mr. Zhernovski, the Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, began by emphasizing that the State under review strongly believed the peer review of human rights situations in all UN member states could make substantial contribution to the goal of their equal and full realization universally. Since its second UPR in January 2014, the State Party went through political and institutional crises and encountered difficult challenges in the implementation of its human rights obligations. In order to tackle these challenges, the new North Macedonian Government, formed on 1 June 2017, adopted a reform package. It included reforms in the area of the functioning of the justice system (laws on the role and the functioning of courts, laws on the Judicial Council, the Council of the Public Prosecutor and the Prosecutor’s Office), amendments to the Criminal Code that encompassed criminalisation of hate crimes and violence against children and that aided victims of trafficking. Moreover, the reform package improved the laws on criminal procedure by integrating provisions on free legal aid. Additionally, a new law on the prevention of corruption, dealing with conditions of selection and appointment of officials, had been adopted just a few days before the review.

In reply to the written questions by the United Kingdom and Sweden concerning corruption in prisons, the Head of the delegation informed about consultations undertaken with the Council of Europe (CoE) in 2016. Their findings were used as a basis for new policies, including a strategy for pursuing zero tolerance on ill-treatment. In May 2017, a memorandum of cooperation was signed regarding the appointment of prison directors; a draft legal regulation on strengthening of the selection criteria would be incorporated into a new law pending adoption. Furthermore, in January 2018, training was held for staff by international consultants, hired by the CoE.

Regarding another question posed by the United Kingdom, the delegation briefed other UN Member States that in 2018, there were in total 12 cases registered in which journalists had been victims of violence; 7 of them were closed, and in the remaining 5 cases, the investigations were ongoing. On the rights of the LGBTI community, 2 out of 4 registered cases of violence were still being pursued. In the two cases that had been closed, all measures had been taken but no perpetrators were identified. Moreover, a new law on the prevention of discrimination was passed on 17 January 2019.

Other questions concerned:

1. Strategies for the integration of Roma where the Government has focused on integrated education and inter-ethnic tolerance (since 2012, 420 schools have been involved in the project, targeting 6,000 students);

2. Policies on the protection of persons with disabilities where the Government continues its efforts to implement the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD);

3. Measures taken to promote gender equality and to fight domestic violence where the authorities have been implementing the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention) and plan to finalise the process by the end of 2019;

4. Steps taken to combat trafficking in human beings where a national unit, headed by the Public Prosecutor for organised crime and corruption and composed of members of the Ministry of Interior, was established in 2018;

5. Health sector in which significant progress was made in relation to sexual and reproductive healthcare, the authorities have been working closely with medical experts to revise restrictive laws on abortion with a view to emphasising the woman’s choice.

Interactive Dialogue and Recommendations from States

Numerous States commended North Macedonia for its efforts in the fight against discrimination, including through the adoption of multiple strategies and action plans such as the National Strategy 2016-2020 on equality and non-discrimination, the National Action Plan 2015-2020 for the implementation of the Law on the Prevention of and Protection against Discrimination and the 2018-2020 Gender Equality National Action Plan. Many countries also praised the ratification of the Istanbul Convention and the subsequent steps taken by the Government to implement it. North Macedonia’s actions in the field of its justice system, including the adoption of the 2017-2020 Strategy for Reform of the Justice System to ensure a more independent, transparent and efficient judiciary was also greatly appreciated. In that regard, some States welcomed the amendments to the Law on the Ombudsperson with a view to fulfilling the criteria for the ‘A’ status in accordance with the Paris Principles. The most positive recognition of the State Party’s achievements was given by Senegal, hailing all specific action plans which, in its view, demonstrate the good faith of the authorities regarding fundamental human rights. Estonia and Slovenia welcomed the ratification of the Kampala Amendments to the Rome Statute, as recommended during North Macedonia’s second UPR cycle. Germany appreciated the efforts taken regarding the rights of the LGBTI persons and the Government’s demonstration of support to the community, and the Netherlands commended the special parliamentary advocacy group for LGBTI issues.

Yet, many countries continued to be concerned about discrimination against the Roma population, the phenomenon being demonstrated by comparatively lower indicators for health performance, education outcomes and employment, access to housing and to justice. Some States warned about the ever-present segregation of children in primary schools. Others were concerned about poor prison conditions and overcrowding, allegations of mistreatment of prisoners by prison officers and deaths of prisoners in custody. A few States were worried about the rights of persons with disabilities and noted that they faced barriers to access health, education and employment services. Other concerns related to the freedom of press, freedom of expression and discrimination against women and LGBTI persons, lack of attention being paid to discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI). Spain added that while North Macedonia’s Administrative Court had legally recognised gender identity, many transgender persons continued to be subjected to discriminatory or violent acts. Spain was also concerned over the high levels of infant mortality.

Canada remained concerned about reports of illegal deportation of refugees and migrants to neighbouring countries without official procedure and the Russian Federation suspected an external interference with North Macedonia’s justice system from abroad. However, the most negative intervention came, ironically, from Iran who started off by saying that the ‘human rights situation in North Macedonia was a matter of concern’. It called upon the Government to address the continued practice of xenophobia, racial and religious discrimination against the country’s minorities, especially with respect to education and healthcare. Furthermore, Iran recommended that the State Party take immediate action against ill-treatment in prisons and improve material conditions in detention and reduce overcrowding. It also highlighted the need to address forced deportation of migrants and refugees, to revise the Criminal Code to include a definition of racial discrimination and to ratify the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Genocide Convention).

Numerous recommendations were offered by States during the interactive dialogue. The most common were that North Macedonia ratify international human rights treaties, such as the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances (CED), the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention No. 169 of the International Labour Organisation, the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, International Convention on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (CRMW), the Genocide Convention cited above, the Optional Protocols to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and that the State Party amend the laws on the office of the Ombudsman so that they are in accordance with the Paris Principles. Many States further suggested that North Macedonia continue its efforts in fighting against discrimination by implementing its newly adopted laws and by prosecuting hate speech and hate crimes. Other recommendations in this regard concerned the strengthening of protection afforded to the LGBTI community, the Roma population and other minorities. Several States recommended that the State Party amend and continue revising its national criminal legislation, and that it combat domestic violence against women and children. Sweden recommended to amend the Criminal Code to criminalize marital rape and to remove the requirement of penetration in the definition of rape. Many countries suggested to eradicate ill-treatment by law enforcement officers as well as in prisons, to improve material conditions in detention, to continue improving the judicial system by safeguarding the principles of transparency, independence and impartiality and by investing in the training of judges, public prosecutors and other authorities. Additional recommendations encompassed protection of freedom of media, press and expression, and safety of journalists, inclusive education, access to healthcare, combatting human trafficking, protection of persons with disabilities, refugees and asylum seekers.
The members of the delegation of North Macedonia thanked the participants for the frank dialogue and responded to a number of questions, some of which were already described above and others which are summarized below.

North Macedonia’s UPR, Room XX of the Palais des Nations, Source: GICJ

Roma issues: Information was provided by the representatives of North Macedonia’s Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, as well as its Ministry of Education and Science. The delegation stressed that Roma integration was very high on the Government’s agenda, as evidenced by a cross-sectoral approach to the topic: a minister without portfolio dealing with the Roma issue, the Minister of Labour and Social Policy as a coordinator and a national body in charge of implementation of national action plans. The new Government (as of 1 June 2017) wishes to continue with existing projects and their implementation specifically:

• A programme aimed at children’s education: A programme has existed since 2016 and is implemented in 19 municipalities which receive funding from the ministries. A new integration project was launched in 2017, targeting school and out-of-school activities; several errors were found in the school books containing hate speech and/or gender prejudices, and the authorities withdrew 22 of them from the school curriculum. A project that is in place for pre-school education aims at increasing the number of Roma children at all levels of education (500-600 children included in pre-school annually, 600 children receive scholarships, 250 Roma students are in university). Furthermore, the Government offers scholarships, supports mentoring and tutoring activities and provides free public transportation and free books for all children. In addition, it ensures access to school buildings for children with disabilities.

Living conditions: The Government made efforts in conducting social mapping in 14 municipalities to get a clearer picture about where the Roma minorities live, what kind of problems they encounter. A project to reconstruct their houses or to provide for new houses will follow.

Persons without identity cards: There was an open call for all North Macedonia’s residents extending a possibility to be registered in an electronic system and 670 individuals were identified. The Government is working on providing access to education, healthcare, employment and social policy; yet, three laws must be changed in that regard.

Reform of the justice system and criminalisation of hate speech: Additional information was offered by the representative of the Ministry of Justice. Amendments to the Criminal Code are ongoing in order to align the definition of ‘torture’ with the one enshrined in the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). The Government focuses on ensuring the independence and impartiality of the courts system, activities continue to be based on these principles. New conditions have been stipulated with regards to the selection of the members of the Judicial Council, and the criteria on the appointment of judges and public prosecutors were revised in line with the Venice Commission’s recommendations, including the establishment of individual responsibility. The Constitutional Court will adopt its new code and the Judicial Media Council was established as a new body.

Corruption: In 2017, a total number of 29 cases on high corruption were recorded, 23 of them fell within the competence of the Special Public Prosecutor’s office.

Hate crimes committed against the LGBTI and the Roma: Information was given by the Ministry of Interior. In November 2018, the Parliament adopted amendments to the Criminal Code aiming at efficiently preventing hate crime; they included a definition of hate crime and the elements were incorporated into separate criminal offences. The Internet is now being monitored to detect crimes punishable ex officio. As a result, the authorities detected a spreading of racist and xenophobic materials in 2018; 11 reports were submitted to the Public Prosecutor’s office and they concerned the LGBTI and Roma.

Trafficking in human beings: In 2018, institutions recorded an increased number of identified victims – 9 women and 6 children, out of which one child was a foreign national – seven of them were given shelter and offered assistance through individual counselling and group therapy.

Prison matters: The authorities have been working on the reconstruction of some of the prisons and on the establishment of alternative sanctions. They are also involved in projects with Germany and the Netherlands on providing healthcare whereby health professionals are hired to attend to the prisoners. Moreover, a special fund was allocated for the healthcare of prisoners.

Mistreatment by law enforcement: An external control mechanism is in place to investigate instances of ill-treatment by police forces. A new law is pending that would address shortcomings in the system, based on recommendations provided by the Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT).

Domestic violence: A national action plan for the implementation of the Istanbul Convention is in place; its goal is to harmonise legislation, to establish special services with a view to improving protection of victims of gender-based violence and domestic violence. A new law on protection against domestic violence was also adopted.

More detailed information may be found in the UPR Working Group’s report on North Macedonia, adopted on Tuesday, 29 January 2019.

To conclude the interactive dialogue, the Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Andrej Zhernovski, thanked the participants for the frank dialogue and reiterated the commitment of his Government to upholding and protecting human rights.

Background information

To prepare for the review, the Working Group received two reports compiled by the OHCHR. One gave an overview of the reports of UN treaty bodies, special procedures and other relevant UN documents pertaining to human rights in North Macedonia (A/HRC/WG.6/32/MKD/2). The other report was a summary of 24 stakeholders’ submissions on North Macedonia related to the UPR process (A/HRC/WG.6/32/MKD/3). A list of questions prepared in advance by Belarus, Belgium, Germany, Portugal, on behalf of Group of Friends on national implementation, reporting and follow-up, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland was transmitted to North Macedonia through the troika. Below is a summary of the main issues raised in the above-mentioned OHCHR reports.

North Macedonia’s Participation in International Human Rights Treaties

Summary of UN Documentation and Stakeholder Submissions

Scope of international obligations and cooperation with international human rights mechanisms and bodies

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) and some other NGOs encouraged the State party to ratify the OP-ICESCR, the CRMW and CED. The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) recommended that North Macedonia ratify the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled and UNESCO suggested promoting access to and participation in cultural heritage and creative expressions. Some NGOs insisted on ratifying the Genocide Convention and the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. In addition, Macedonian NGOs worldwide called for the establishment of an Independent Commission of Inquiry by the United Nations to examine whether war crimes, crimes against humanity, aggression and genocide were perpetrated against the Macedonian minority in Greece between 1913 and today.

National human rights framework

Three UN Committees welcomed the adoption of the Law on the Prevention of and Protection against Domestic Violence. The Human Rights Committee recommended that the State party ensure that the draft amendments to the Law on the Ombudsman were in line with the Paris principles and that the Office of the Ombudsman had sufficient human and financial resources. Other recommendations offered by various UN Committees concerned the areas of asylum law, laws on employment and social policy, corruption or termination of pregnancy. Two UN Committees recommended amendments to the Criminal Code to include clear definitions of torture and racial discrimination. Additional recommendations related to national strategies on the integration of refugees and Roma women. NGOs suggested improvements in the fields of sexual and reproductive health, defamation legislation, social housing, social protection, health insurance and protection.

Implementation of international human rights obligations, taking into account applicable international humanitarian law

Cross-Cutting Issues

Two UN Special Rapporteurs were concerned about the physical and psychological integrity of those working and advocating for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, and disturbed by reports of the emergence of expressions of hate and incitement to discrimination on the grounds of gender, nationality, religion and sexual orientation in the media and on the Internet. In that regard, three UN Committees recommended revising the State Party’s antidiscrimination laws. One UN Committee also suggested amending the Law on Free Legal Aid in order to ensure that all people, including disadvantaged and marginalized individuals, were able to claim their economic, social and cultural rights with professional assistance.
Roma Advocacy Network (RAN) recommended establishing a mechanism for identifying abuses of investigative powers by the prosecuting authorities against accused Roma, providing training for judicial authorities about the right to equality and prohibition of discrimination and conducting research to systematically document all forms of discrimination against Roma children in education. Other NGOs offered recommendations in the fields of labour relations, religious freedoms, refugees and foreigners, access to primary and secondary education, healthcare, work, accommodation to the Roma population, gender equality and the rights of the elderly.

Civil and Political Rights

Two UN Committees urged the State Party to put an end to ill-treatment in prisons, to improve material conditions in detention facilities, to enhance measures to reduce overcrowding; together with several NGOs they called upon the authorities to effectively investigate all allegations of police violence. The Human Rights Committee offered multiple recommendations, including strengthening efforts to eliminate police brutality and the excessive use of force by law enforcement officials, protecting the full independence and impartiality of the judiciary and ensuring the right to a fair trial without undue delay, ensuring the full enjoyment by all of the freedom of expression and association, protecting journalists, combatting trafficking in persons, and systematically investigating and prosecuting perpetrators. CESCR requested North Macedonia to combat corruption, including by improving public governance and ensuring transparency in the conduct of public affairs, and the Council of Europe stressed the importance of effectively investigating and prosecuting hate crimes, including against journalists and LGBTI people.
Other recommendations by civil society encompassed ensuring that religious leaders were able to exercise their right to freedom of expression and eliminating unreasonable discriminatory interference of the state in the activities of religious organizations, ensuring that civil society activists, human rights defenders and journalists were provided with a safe and secure environment in which to carry out their work and improving the protection for the victims of human trafficking, especially child trafficking.

Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

Several NGOs and various UN Committees had concrete recommendations on the improvement of the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights. In respect of right to work and to just and favourable conditions of work, the state Party was called upon to upgrade the vocational skills of the workforce to meet the needs of the labour market, to create decent job opportunities, to promote the employment of youth, women, persons with disabilities and Roma, including through quota systems, and to prevent the exploitation of volunteers. With reference to the right to social security, the CRPD recommended to repeal provisions restricting the eligibility of persons with disabilities to social benefits to a particular age range and to allocate certain allowances and benefits to children with disabilities. Under the right to an adequate standard of living, recommendations included intensifying efforts to combat poverty, protecting the right to adequate food and providing affordable social housing units for disadvantaged and marginalized individuals and families.

In relation to the right to health, the civil society suggested improving the quality of abortion care and of the reproductive healthcare system, increasing the dynamic of the Ministry of Health working group for the abortion law review and urgently removing mandatory waiting periods, establishing a Committee for Monitoring the Health of the Roma people, implementing balanced territorial distribution of gynecological practices and measures to encourage gynecologists to work in rural areas. Finally, regarding the right to education, the State Party was urged to promote inclusive education and to ensure access to education for all children, to address the overrepresentation of Roma children in special schools and special classes in mainstream schools, to introduce changes to the curriculum in primary schools in order to implement courses and textbooks that will break gender stereotypes and to implement comprehensive sex education.

Rights of Specific Persons or Groups

Under this chapter, many recommendations were offered in order to strengthen the protection of vulnerable groups, namely women, children, persons with disabilities, minorities and indigenous peoples, migrants, refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced persons, and stateless persons. More information on these recommendations may be found directly in the OHCHR’s reports cited above.

Adoption of the Draft Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review

On Tuesday, 29 January 2019, the Working Group adopted the report on North Macedonia, which contained a total of 169 recommendations. The State Party will consider the recommendations and respond no later than the forty-first session of the Human Rights Council (June-July 2019).

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